Dealing with Complexity: How Leaders can effectively manage Coronavirus Crises

I had a great opportunity to interview Dr. Umesh MUKHI and hear all about his inspiring actions and innovative thinking about “how leaders can effecteviley manage this Coronavirus crisis”.

Dr. Umesh MUKHI is the Assistant Professor of Management at Fundação Getulio Vargas’s Sao Paulo School of Business Administration (FGV EAESP). He is also affiliated with Global Sustainable Leaders Network.

“The growing pandemic requires an organizational and leadership mindset capable of dealing with complexity while devising adequate responses while considering the needs of its stakeholders.

As we have seen various responses such as Microsoft, Google, and Zoom to offer free work from home software, Airline’s flexible refund and Cancellation policy and School’s rethinking their infrastructure to offer online classes. Directly or Indirectly this crisis has posed a great challenge for organizations where they not only risk to lose financially but also a lot at psychological and moral level. It will put to test your organizations capacity and leadership skills on how you can sail through such complex scenario.

Since last year I have started experimenting with a different approach of teaching leadership in executive education in Brasil. Considering the hypothesis that the challenges we face today have become more complex and unpredictable, I have been incorporating concepts from the President’s Lincoln’s leadership in crises and complexity theory. The reason for this experimentation is twofold, firstly , when we read, observe and analyze the Lincoln’s history it is much easier for us to learn by introspection and by relating ourselves with uncertainty and complexity.

Secondly, we also observe that Consulting Sector firms such as Mckinsey and Boston Consulting have been developing knowledge and strategies to Manage Complexity . This proves that neither executives are prepared to deal with complex situations which in present case is Coronavirus. Based on research in Leadership in Crisis and my experience I share some insights which could help managers facing uncertainty while being at the helm of organizational leadership and decision making.

Learning the Characteristic of Crises

A war outside home turf may have limited impact on the restaurant next to your office, but a Pandemic would certainly impact the business of the restaurant. Thus, it is extremely crucial for the leaders to understand and learn the nature of crises essentially on what is controllable and uncontrollable. Concepts from complexity theory deal with elements of unpredictability in which your organization may face direct or indirect impacts of Coronavirus which would stimulate changes in Employee Working Patterns, Customer Relations, Financial Ability. You need to recall that in whatsoever circumstances, such crises are systemic in nature and it will test your organizational agility and capacity on how you could adapt as well as adhere to the organizational mission.

Time is crucial for Design and Implementation.

By default, traditional Top-Down organization structures are not equipped to deal with crises. An open mindset to deal with such situation would rather use this opportunity where Horizontal Teams from various departments could develop a multidisciplinary approach to respond to the crises.

Designing an action plan would imply that you would have to project multiple scenarios in coming weeks while devising the action plan for the present imminent scenario. Time is crucial and hence solutions have to be implemented readapted.

Agility to Adapt

The responsiveness of companies towards the crisis reveals that they have to adapt themselves by reacting with measures. This shows that Self-Adaption is one of the key characteristics of a social system. Leaders should develop ability to analyze macro and micro trends, avoid fake news so that they could dedicate their time and energy to build collective vision, strategic planning and support. Intense pressure situations can create frictions and hence it is crucial for them to share their thoughts and emotions. As much as you may thrive to develop the sense of certainty, as conditions change rapidly re-adaptation, reorganization, re-thinking strategy , improvisation becomes the new normal.

Emphasize on Psychological Safety

Microsoft’s decision to continue to pay all its vendor hourly service providers their regular pay during this period of reduced service needs sets a moral case on how company aimed to foster the sense of psychological safety by ensuring financial stability for hourly workers. This project a good case of leadership where organizations need to infuse the sense of support while affirming towards its key mission. It is likely that your peers, teams ,employees and customers will likely go through amount of uncertainty and stress. This is perhaps the unique moment to forge genuine and loyal relationships via the measures you will undertake.

It is clear that mental models which dictate our organizational functioning are dictated by logic, standardization and rationalization of fixed parameters related to performance and productivity. Crisis situations for better or worse forces us to understand the complex dynamics of vulnerability ,interconnectedness and nonlinear nature of challenges. It is thus crucial for managers to start diving into the concepts of complexity which can help them in deconditioning from present mental models so that our organizations and leaders can become more agile and adaptive for future responses.”

@Umesh Mukhi

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the institution.

Interview by Laura Petrache /Founder of B1-AKT /16+ years of initiating and delivering sustained results, positive impact and effective change.